Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Asbestos Free India campaign of BANI is inspired by trade union movement and right to health campaign. BANI has been working since 2000. It works with peoples movements, doctors, researchers and activists besides trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Public Statement: India should resist bullying by Asbestos producing countries at UN Meet on hazardous substances in Geneva

 Advice from States & Chandigarh Union Territory merit attention 

Before the 8th Conference of the Parties to the UN’s Rotterdam Convention on the prior informed consent procedure for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade, ends tomorrow (May 5) in Geneva, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) appeals to the Prime Minister to  intervene and advice the Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave and Environment Secretary, Ajay Narayan Jha to ensure that India distances itself from countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, and Syria who are opposed to the listing of white chrysotile asbestos in the UN list of hazardous substances. This list helps in better protection of public health and environment.

Union environment minister Anil Madhav Dave has already taken a position which is consistent with public health concerns saying, “Since the use of asbestos is affecting human health, its use should gradually be minimised and eventually end. As far as I know, its use is declining. But it must end.” Indian delegation led by Environment Secretary should not be allowed to take any inconsistent position.

Notably, Indian Navy officials have rightly objected to presence of asbestos in Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov which was inducted into the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya after asbestos decontamination. 

In this regard it is important for India to support the proposal by African countries  to amend the Convention merits India support becasue it allows decisions to list hazardous substances to be taken by a 75% majority vote as a last resort, if consensus proves impossible, which will be on the agenda this proposal.

For more than a decade the white chrysotile asbestos industry has refused to allow white chrysotile asbestos to be put on the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances although it meets all the Convention’s criteria for listing. Thirty-two scientists from every region of the world, who make up the Convention’s expert scientific committee, have repeatedly recommended that white chrysotile asbestos be put on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances. The right to Prior Informed Consent that the Convention provides has been rendered null and void by a tiny group who profit from asbestos export and the Convention is in crisis.

India should not allow itself to be overwhelmed by the influence of the four asbetsos producers of the world who produced 1,799,700 metric tons of chrysotile asbestos in 2015 (Russia - 1,100,000 tons, Brazil- 310,000 tons, China-210,000 tons and Kazakhstan 179,700 tons) who seem to have given themselves the power to determine whether or not Indians have the right of Prior Informed Consent. In a bizzare situation, it is being implied by them this right exists only if the hazardous white chrysotile asbestos industry allows it to be exercised.

White Chrysotile Asbestos has been approved by Convention’s Chemical Review Committee (CRC) for listing in the UN List of hazardous substance. 

Indian delegation must be made to realize what is stated in the 105 page long Indian Government’s Environmental Impact Assessment Guidance Manual for Asbestos Based Industries.  The relevant part of the Manual reads: “All workplaces where asbestos dust may cause a hazard is to be clearly indicated as an asbestos dust exposure area through the use of a well-displayed sign, which identifies the hazard and the associated health effects” for workers’s education. It also states, “Pictorial warning signs and precautionary notices for asbestos and products containing asbestos are to be made” for the protection of consumers from “hazard and the associated health effects.” During the UN meeting underway from 24 April till 5 May, 2017, these admitted “hazard and the associated health effects” of asbestos manufacturing and asbestos containing products is the subject of deliberations.  

In a written reply Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare informed the Parliament on the subject of Asbestos Related Diseases on February 21, 2014. This reply is most relevant in this regard in the present context as far as Central Government’s position is concerned.

The reply of the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare reads: “The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has informed that major health hazards of asbestos include cancer of lung, mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum and specific fibrous disease of lung known as asbestosis. All types of asbestos fibers are responsible for human mortality and morbidity. Studies have been carried out at National Institute of Occupational Research, an Institute of ICMR, Ahmedabad which show that workers when exposed to higher workplace concentration of asbestos fiber have higher incidence of interstitial lung disease and pulmonary function impairment. Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes, (DGFASLI) under Ministry of Labour & Employment has intimated data of workers suffering from Asbestosis in factories registered under the Factories Act, 1948.As per the information provided by DGFASLI, it is informed that 21 no. of Asbestosis cases were reported in Gujarat in 2010 and 2 cases in Maharashtra in the year 2012.”   It noteworthy that reply is from the year 2014.

This clearly indicates that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has revisited, reviewed and revised its position. It is evdient this very ministry which has jurisdiction over the subject of health.

The reply of the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare reads: “As per the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 and rules framed thereunder, manufacture, handling and processing of Asbestos and its products is declared as Hazardous Process. Further, Govt. of India has prepared Schedule XIV- ‘’Handling and Processing of Asbestos, Manufacture of any Article or Substance of Asbestos and any other Process of Manufacture or otherwise in which Asbestos is used in any Form’’ as a Dangerous Operation under section 87 of the Factories Act,1948. The Ministry of Mines has informed that the Grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for Asbestos are presently banned in the country on Health Grounds.” This was stated by the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in a reply to the Lok Sabha.

This reply is consistent with the observation of World Health Organisation (WHO) saying, " All types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibres in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials." It underlines that several thousands of deaths can be attributed to other asbestos-related diseases, as well as to non-occupational exposures to asbestos.

Indian delegation must be informed that Union Ministry of Mines banned the Grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for Asbestos (including white chrysotile asbetsos) in the country “on Health Grounds”. It is should be adviced that the admitted “health grounds” are relevant for trade in raw white chrysotile asbestos mineral fibers. Indian delegation should refer to the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 and rules framed thereunder, according to which manufacture, handling and processing of Asbestos and its products is declared as Hazardous Process. Further, it should be told that Governmenty of India has prepared Schedule XIV- ‘’Handling and Processing of Asbestos, Manufacture of any Article or Substance of Asbestos and any other Process of Manufacture or otherwise in which Asbestos is used in any Form’’ which admits that it is a Hazardous and Dangerous Operation under section 87 of the Factories Act,1948.

The most recent paper titled, Pleuroperitoneal Mesothelioma: A Rare Entity on 18F-FDG PET/CT published in Indian Journal of Nuclear Medicine, authored by researchers from Department of Nuclear Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi and Department of Radiodiagnosis, AIIMS. This paper authored by Dr Shamim Ahmed Shamim et al provides credible information about an asbestos related disease of a 40-year-old-female without any history of occupational asbestos exposure presented with histologically proven malignant pleural mesothelioma. Malignant mesothelioma is a rare tumor that originates from the cells lining the mesothelial surfaces, including the pleura, peritoneum, pericardium, and tunica vaginalis.  

An earlier 2009 paper titled Pleural mesothelioma: An unusual case diagnosed on pleural fluid cytology and immunocytochemistry states, “Mesothelioma is a rare neoplasm with relationship to occupational and environmental exposure to asbestos. Its accurate and early diagnosis is often difficult. We present an unusual clinical presentation and diagnostic dilemma in a 30-year-male, who presented with neck pain and diffuse edema of left upper limb. The color Doppler ultrasound revealed venous thrombosis. The right supraclavicular lymph node biopsy revealed a poorly differentiated carcinoma. The patient had mild bilateral pleural effusion, the characteristic cytomorphological features of mesothelioma on fluid cytology were helpful in establishing the diagnosis.”  This paper was co-authored by Dr V K Arora et al from the Department of Pathology, AlIMS.

Indian delegation shoould be protected from the unhealthly influence of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) which has misled the Indian delegation in the past. Indian delegation should note that Asbestos is listed as a hazardous substance under Part II of Schedule-I of the Manufacture, Storage and import of Hazardous Chemical Rules  under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provides the List of Hazardous and Toxic Chemicals. This list has 429 chemicals. Asbestos is at the serial no. 28 in the list. This Rule and the list are available on the website of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests.

If ACPMA does not overwhelm the Indian delegation, the Indian position would be in keeping with governmement’s “Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India” that lists ‘asbestos’ at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals in international trade which is imported in India. It would be scandalous if Indian delegation took a position inconsistent with the Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals (MSIHC) Rules.

 Notably, even under Factories Act, 1948, the List of 29 industries involving hazardous processes is given under Section 2 (cb), Schedule First, asbestos is mentioned at serial no. 24.  The Act defines "hazardous process" as “any process or activity in relation to an industry specified in the First Schedule where, unless special care is taken, raw materials used therein or the intermediate or finished products, bye-products, wastes or effluents thereof would--(i) cause material impairment to the health of the persons engaged in or connected therewith, or (ii) result in the pollution of the general environment”.  This leaves no doubt that asbestos is a hazardous substance.

It has been observed that promoters of white chrysotile asbestos like ACPMA manage to get themselves planted in the Indian delegation and seem to prevail on the government representatives take a position against human health and the environment and to put profit of the asbestos industry before gnawing public health concerns.

It must be recalled that on June 22, 2011 Indian delegation led by Ms. Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary, had supported the listing of Chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical substance at the fifth meeting on Rotterdam Convention amidst standing ovation. TWA had taken the opportunity of congratulating the government but the about turn on later occasions under the corrupting influence ACPMA was a sad let down.

 It is reliably learnt that officials and scientists who go to such UN meetings feel humiliated when the industry representatives give them directions instead of the senior government officials or ministers. The UN meet on hazardous chemicals creates a rationale for insulating government officials from undue and motivated industry influence else they will be obliged to act like parrots.

In keeping with Indian laws when the UN’s Chemical Review Committee of Rotterdam Convention recommended listing of white chrysotile asbestos as hazardous substance it is incomprehensible as to why Indian delegation opposed its inclusion in the UN list on earlier occasions. The only explanation appears to be the fact that the Indian government delegation did not have a position independent of the asbestos industry’s position which has covered up and denied the scientific evidence that all asbestos can cause disease and death.

Global experience underlines that even early industry-funded studies showed a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and cancer. Had this been made known to the public it could have prevented countless deaths but the asbestos industry made the conscious decision to protect their profits instead and choose to keep this information hidden from the public. India’s asbestos industry is following the same path.  

in a related development, on April 2, 2013 in a precedent-setting decision, the Israel's High Court of Justice rejected a petition on against a law placing substantial financial responsibility on a company to clean up asbestos waste. The order observed, “In recent years, countries throughout the world have been required to deal with different dilemmas related to protecting the quality of the environmental.  A substantial portion of these dilemmas involve, among other things, legal, economic and ethical considerations. Amongst these dilemmas, the removal of hazardous waste – the matter at the heart of the present appeal – is a subject that demands significant attention.  Asbestos, in particular, has proved itself to be efficient and strong, suitable for many uses.  However, it has become clear with time that its ability to cause damage immeasurably outweighs its potential benefits.  Since the 20th century, different states have dealt with this matter of how to clean up the environment from asbestos, and onthe questions of who to impose the responsibility and who to require to pay for the implementation.  Consequently, I have found it appropriate to first turn our perspective on the relevant legal regimes in a few key countries beyond our borders.”  It ruled that "To conclude, the survey presented (of various international legal perspectives) indicates various and complimentary components.  In all instances it appears a consensus has been established, certainly so with regards to materials hazardous by their very nature such as asbestos, that substantial responsibility is to be imposed on the pollutant."

Also relevant is the verdict of five judges of Japan’s Supreme Court of February 17, 2015 that has upheld a ruling that found asbestos used at a plant of Kubota Corporation caused fatal mesothelioma in a man who lived near the plant and ordered the company to pay ¥31.9 million in damages to his relatives. The petitioners were relatives of Kojiro Yamauchi, who died at age 80 after working for two decades about 200 meters from the Kubota plant in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. His relatives and those of Ayako Yasui, who died at age 85 having lived about 1 km from the plant, sought damages from both Kubota and the government. In October, 2014 this Supreme Court ruled that the government was responsible for failing to protect workers from exposure at asbestos factories in Sennan, Osaka Prefecture.

It is matter of official record that three cases of asbestos related diseases i.e. Mesothelioma have been reported from among the workers of employed in the factory of Hyderabad Industries Limited, Sanathnagara, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. These workers have died due to the disease. These workers were: 1) N Chandra Mouli, 2) Sher Khan and 3) ama Chandraiah. This was revealed in an affidavit filed by T Narayana Reddy, Special Officer Office of Advocate-on-record, Andhra Pradesh Legal Cell, New Delhi in the Supreme Court. This company in question may be asked to file a report on total number of workers employed by it and their health status including a report about the three above mentioned workers.

It is also a matter of official record that National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, Gujarat recommended compensation for two workers employed in Gujarat Composites Limited who were certified to be suffering from asbestosis. This has been revealed in a reply given by Government of Gujarat. A letter of Chief Inspector of Factories, Gujarat State dated December 24, 2002 in the matter of execution of the order of Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 categorically reveals that two workers of Gujarat Composites Ltd were confirmed for Asbestosis, an incurable lung disease by NIOH. The workers were (1) Hazarilal Manraj and (2) Sahejram B Yadav. The letter recommended compensation of Rs 1 lakh as per the Court order but till date the same has not been given. This and many such cases conclusively establish the hazards from asbestos. Influence of the asbestos industry becomes quite obvious when Government turns a blind eye to such glaring official facts.  This is also a clear case of contempt of court by the asbestos based company. It may be noted that Gujarat Composite Ltd (formerly named Digvijay Cement Company) appears to be attempting to hide behind myriad corporate veils by changing names and by outsourcing its work. The official letter demonstrates that white chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous substance which causes asbestos related incurable diseases.    

It is noteworthy that Secretary, Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh Administration which has categorically informed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that “a. White Asbestos (Chrysotile Asbestos) is implicated in so many studies with the following diseases:-Mesothelioma (Cancer of Pleura), Lung Cancer, Peritoneal Cancer, Asbestosis, And also consider as cause of following cancers:- Ovarian Cancer, Laryngeal Cancer, Other Cancer b. Diseases are produced in the person involved in Asbestos Industry.” It states that “No. of cancer deaths due to asbestos requires further large scale study from India”. It informs, “It is definitely harmful material, causing cancer and other related diseases.”
It quotes from Pulmonary Medicine journal saying, “Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals exploited commercially for their desirable physical properties. However, it has been proved beyond doubt that Asbestos is hazardous to humans. White asbestos has been found to have causal relationship with various diseases like pulmonary asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma leading to deaths of thousands of people every year.”
The communication of Chandigarh Administration concludes saying, “Hence, use of white asbestos should be completely banned in India also and the same may be replaced by some safe alternative material.” Chandigarh Administration has realized the public health consequences of exposure to fibers of asbestos.
The Assistant Labour Commissioner, Union Territory, Chandigarh has referred to para 16 of the judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated January 21, 2011 passed in Writ Petition (Civil) No.260 of 2004 wherein directions of January 27, 1995 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 is required to be strictly adhered to.  It further states, “In terms of the above judgement of this Court as well as reasons stated in this judgement, we hereby direct the Union of India and States to review safeguards in relation to primary as well as secondary exposure to asbestos keeping in mind the information supplied by the respective States in furtherance to the earlier judgement as well as fresh resolution passed by the ILO. Upon such review, further directions, consistent with law, shall be issued within a period of six months from the date of passing of this order.”  As to ‘fresh resolution passed by the ILO’, it is noteworthy that “A Resolution concerning asbestos was adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 95th Session in 2006. Noting that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified as human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and expressing its concern that workers continue to face serious risks from asbestos exposure, particularly in asbestos removal, demolition, building maintenance, ship breaking and waste handling activities, it calls for: – the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place as the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths.” 

In a letter dated May 29, 2012, Joint Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand has referred to a document Medline Plus Trusted Health Information for You, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the prescription of National Institutes of Health (NIH) highlighting the Treatment stating: “There is no cure. Stopping exposure to asbestos is essential.”

It is not surprising that Union Ministry of Labour’s concept paper declares, "The Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos. The Concept paper of the Central Government notes, "Asbestosis is yet another occupational disease of the Lungs which is on an increase under similar circumstances warranting concerted efforts of all stake holders to evolve strategies to curb this menace". 

It has been estimated that one person dies from mesothelioma for every 170 tons of asbestos consumed. WHO estimates we have107,000 deaths worldwide per year from occupational exposure to asbestos. If non occupational exposure is added it reaches a figure of about 120,000 deaths. Average world consumption/year 30-60 years ago was -- looks like3/2 of what it is now (2 million metric tons/year). Give India its share of that based on its share of global consumption. At 300,000 tons in 2013, that's about 18,000 deaths (15% of 120,000).  Asbestos diseases have a very long incubation period. So if you are exposed today to an asbestos fibre, you are likely to get the disease in next 10-35 years. Asbestos is like a time bomb to the lungs and Indians will suffer the most. If it is banned today that does not mean people will not suffer. Because of past usage people will continue to suffer from these diseases. It is clear that lack of documentation and lack of environmental and occupational health infrastructure does not mean lack of victims of asbestos related diseases.

Indian laws include asbestos in the list of hazardous substances but undue influence of commercial interests has been persuaded to take a position which is diametrically opposite of domestic laws in the past. It is hoped that the situation will be different this time. 

Prime Minister should intervene to insulate Indian delegation from undue and motivated industry influence to ensure that they are not made to act like parrots of commercial interests. In matters like exposure from carcinogenic fibers of asbestos these officials must be made to factor in far reaching implications for public health before defending the indefensible hazardous asbestos industry. The day is not far when officials who are members of the Indian delegation too will be held liable for their acts of omission and commission as is happening in more than 50 countries that have banned all kinds of asbestos.  The representtaives of asbestos industry association has been undermining India’s stature among the global scientific community for long.

The crucial issue is that Indian delegation must resist the influence of foreign interests working through ACPMA to ensure that public health interest triumphs over immoral, unethical and myopic commercial considerations of foreign asbestos producers to defend India’s supreme interest. The manufacturers in India can easily shift to non-asbestos materials for manufacturing and some of them have started to move in that direction in South India.   

Even early industry-funded studies had shown a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and cancer. Had this been made known to the public it could have prevented countless deaths but the asbestos industry made the conscious decision to protect their profits instead and choose to keep this information hidden from the public. India’s asbestos industry is following the same path.

Indian delegation should take an independent position without being bullied by countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Zimbabwe and Vietnam and support the listing of White Chrysotile Asbestos as a hazardous chemical becasue CPCB’s inventory and other Indian laws mention it as a hazardous chemical.

It is eminently consistent with the principle of Prior Informed Consent for India which imports White Chrysotile Asbestos from countries like Russia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan and others to receive the information to assess whether it has the ability to safely use this substance or products containing it. The fact remains that the Convention is about prior informed consent about trade in hazardous chemicals and not about banning any hazardous substance.

India should not allow itself to be misled by asbestos producers like Russia and Kazakhstan in this regard now that Canada has rightly stopped mining of white chrysotile asbestos almost like India due its “deleterious” impact on health.

As per Environmental Impact Assessment Guidance Manual for Asbestos Based Industries , the Terms of Reference (TOR) that is awarded by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), Industrial Project, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests for Chrysotile asbestos based roofing factory asks the project proponent to prepare a “Health Management Plan for Mesothelioma, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries” revealing its hazardous nature. 

The recommendation to list white chrysotile asbestos to the PIC list can be a remedy for the mistake committed in the past to pave the way for making India free of incurable hazardous asbestos related diseases. While one remains quite alarmed to note that Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, Government of India does not include Ministers of Consumer Affairs, Health, Labour, and Environment, it is hoped that despite such a structural constraint myopic commercial considerations will not triumph over gnawing concerns related to consumers, public health, workers, and environment.

In this conflict between Truth Versus Profit, the former must prevail taking cognizance of the hazardous nature of all kinds of asbestos including white chrysotile asbestos and decision of the countries that have banned it. These countries are:  1) Algeria, 2) Argentina, 3) Australia, 4) Austria, 5) Bahrain, 6) Belgium, 7) Brunei, 8) Bulgaria,  9) Chile, 10) Croatia, 11) Cyprus, 12) Czech Republic, 13) Denmark, 14) Egypt, 15) Estonia, 16) Finland, 17) France, 18)  Gabon, 19) Greece, 20) Germany, 21) Gibraltar, 22) Hungary, 23) Honduras, 24) Iceland, 25) Iraq, 26) Ireland, 27) Israel, 28) Italy, 29) Japan, 30) Jordan, 31) Kuwait, 32) Latvia, 33) Luxembourg, 34) Lithuania, 35) Mauritius, 36) Mozambique, 37) Malta, 38) Netherlands, 39) New Caledonia, 40) New Zealand, 41) Norway, 42) Oman, 43) Portugal, 44) Poland, 45) Qatar, 46) Romania, 47) Saudi Arabia, 48) Sweden,  49) Switzerland, 50) Serbia, 51) Seychelles, 52) Slovakia, 53) Slovenia, 54) South Africa, 55) South Korea, 56) Spain, 57) Turkey, 58) Uruguay and 59) United Kingdom. India needs to  learn from them in this regard.    

The CoP 8 of Rotterdam Convention provides an opportunity to demonstrate that Indian Government does not put blind profit above public health and to underline that it is concerned about the public health of present and future generations. 

Prime Minister must ensure that India supports the proposed amendment from the twelve African countries represents the only hope of ensuring that the white chrysotile asbestos industry and other hazardous industries do not get the right to cause the demise of the Convention.

For Details: Dr Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660,, Web:,

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